Cough Drops That Are Safe to Use While Pregnant

Woman taking a cough lozenge

If you have a cold or sore throat while you're expecting, it's natural to want to relieve your discomfort with cough drops. Many doctors and health clinics include cough drops on their list of acceptable over-the-counter medications for treating cold symptoms. The key is moderation, reading the ingredients, and checking with your doctor for confirmation.

Most Cough Drops Are Safe

You should always confirm the safety of any medication with your own doctor; however, many health clinics give expectant moms a list of safe medications to use if they have a cold. These lists, which are based on current research, generally mention several different brands of cough drops, including the following brands:

  • Halls
  • Sucrets
  • Burt's Bees
  • Chlorosceptic

Active Ingredients to Watch

The active ingredients in most cough drops serve to suppress coughing, slightly numb the throat, or very rarely, thin mucus. Some active ingredients in cough drops can have unknown or adverse effects or should be used in moderation.

Avoid Guaifenesin in the First Trimester

The American Academy of Family Physicians cautions against certain ingredients that may be in some types of cold medications. One of these is guaifenesin, an expectorant that thins mucus and may be unsafe in the first trimester. It's rare to find guaifensein in cough drop form, since it's much more common in liquid medications. However, it pays to glance over the cough drop label just in case.

Limit Benzocaine Cough Drops to Two Days

Doctors recommend that you limit your use of cough drops containing the numbing agent benzocaine to two days. Benzocaine lozenges can help with sore or irritated throats, but they should be used only as needed during pregnancy. Although there haven't been human studies, and animal studies have been limited, there is limited evidence that benzocaine could increase the chance of stillbirth.

Dextromethorphan Is Safe in Moderation

The American Academy of Family Physicians notes that dextromethorphan, a cough suppressant in most cough drops, crosses the placenta but appears to be safe. A 2001 study examined the use of this medication during pregnancy and found it did not appear to increase birth defects or negative outcomes.

Keep Menthol Concentrations Low

Menthol is in most cough drops and gives you that cooling feeling that can comfort a sore throat and stuffy nose. According to US Pharmacist, there haven't been adequate studies to make a judgement about the safety of menthol during pregnancy; however, the amount of menthol in cough drops is very low and is generally considered to be safe. If you are concerned, compare the amount of menthol on the brands you are considering and choose one with a lower concentration or a brand without menthol.

Avoid Echinacea

Some cough drops include echinacea, which is a controversial herbal treatment for colds. US Pharmacist recommends that pregnant women avoid echinacea. Although a few studies have indicated it is likely safe, the possible benefits are not fully proven and do not justify the risk.

Keep Track of Zinc

Another controversial ingredient in some throat lozenges is zinc, which may or may not shorten the duration of colds. US Pharmacist notes that zinc is already present in many prenatal vitamins but that expectant mothers should make sure they keep their total zinc consumption to under 40 mg per day. If your throat drops contain zinc, add up up how much you are getting in your prenatal vitamins and don't consume more than the daily maximum in cough drops.

Alternatives to Medicated Drops

Some cough drops are not medicated, which means they don't include any of the above active ingredients. Instead, they work by keeping your throat from feeling dry, often using an active ingredient of pectin, the same natural substance that helps solidify jams and jellies. Consider brands like Ludens, available over the counter at most drugstores.

Talk to Your Doctor to Decide

Using any medication during pregnancy is a decision you should make with your doctor. Most doctors suggest cough drops for sore or irritated throats in expectant moms, but they also emphasize moderation. Take some time to read the ingredients on the package and compare your options before you choose one that's best for you.

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Cough Drops That Are Safe to Use While Pregnant